Close to euphoria

By Aaren Madden, March 2014

Painter Lindy Michie works her particular magic with addition, subtraction and intuition.

A soft violet sky shimmers over lush green trees, while verdant hills tumble over the canvas in Lindy Michie’s acrylic on canvas painting titled “Cerne Abbas.” In the middle ground, a ploughed field is represented in playful yet minimal wriggling lines. The economy of form, combined with a saturation of colour, work to heighten each other, resulting in both a particular landscape and archetypal representations of hill, tree and field. 

Michie is a Victoria painter who grew up surrounded by these very rolling hills in Dorset, England, and by the vivid colour palettes found in the artwork of her grandmother, Anne Redpath, and her father, Alastair Michie. Redpath, one of the great Scottish artists of the twentieth century, was favourably compared to Matisse in her use of colour and composition, while Alastair Michie was a sculptor and abstract painter who was referred to as “a gifted colourist.”

One might assume, with such genetic predisposition, that Michie the younger would have been flinging colours about from birth, but that was not the case. Her path would be very much on her own terms. In fact, she did not pick up a brush until 1994, when she was 40 years old.

This was 20 years after moving from England to Vancouver. “I just came on an adventure, travelling with a friend,” she says, and simply fell in love with the place. I was so attracted to the landscape because it was so dramatic—I had never seen mountains before,” she recalls (though it’s the Dorset landscape she’s most compelled to paint right now).

In 1979 she married, and four years later, moved to a farm in Qualicum Beach, where she lived for 18 years. During that time, she immersed herself happily in raising her son and daughter.

Once her children became more independent, Michie started seeking. “I always felt there was something [in me] that needed to come out, I just didn’t know what it was,” she shares, adding with a laugh,  “I didn’t for a second think it was painting. I was scared of it, because I hadn’t painted before, and I came from this background of painters, and I thought, something really ugly is going to come out!” It made her wary of formal training, which she has never had. “I wouldn’t want anyone to tell me what I was doing wasn’t right. I would have been easily discouraged,” she admits.

Instead, she asked an artist friend to do some informal painting sessions with her, just to get started. Sparks flew. “It was a moment that changed my whole life. It was close to euphoria,” she says. “I just thought everything about me made sense. I felt such joy, I just loved it so much, applying paint to paper.” 

Twenty years on, that feeling hasn’t left her. Over that time she has developed a process that she has described as, borrowing a phrase from Vancouver painter Gordon Smith, “a series of corrections.” She heard him say that during an interview, and found it affirming, knowing it was true for her work as well. “I haven’t ever heard anybody say that before,” she says. “There are some artists who are so polished and so sure of what they do…there is a beginning, a middle and an end, and they are very clear about [this]. For me, it’s not necessarily that way.” 

She doesn’t start with a sketch, but sees where her materials and imagination lead. “I work in a very loose way. I might start with something in mind, and it doesn’t work out, so I might end up with something very different in the end. I just go into my studio, and what will be will be.” 

“Addition and subtraction. That’s what I do,” she explains. Addition in layer upon layer of highly-diluted acrylic paint (and, lately, experiments with gouache) and subtraction in the manipulation of those layers. She paints on the flat in order to let colours pool, removing portions with paper towel to allow highlights or depth to emerge. She uses a wide, rubber-tipped “brush” that can function almost like a squeegee in delivering a minute layer of colour to the canvas, and then she moves it into just the right location. Using the fine tip, she delineates edges and differentiates forms and shadows. The whole result is a surface that is nearly perfectly smooth, yet viewed head-on can often clearly show the individual painterly mark, which makes a delightful deception of its simplicity. Many still life works, especially “Green Coffee Pot” show this, as do the hills in “Sheep Farm.” 

The sheep in the latter scene are simple, economical gestures of light and shadow that offer the most basic suggestion of sheep-ness. “People will enjoy the primitive sense of her composition,” says John Taylor, co-owner of Eclectic Gallery. Michie’s first show with Eclectic—she has shown at Winchester Galleries in the past—is opening March 10. Taylor notes the animals and architecture of Michie’s Dorset landscapes resonate with a blend of sophisticated yet childlike magic due to her ability to pare down to basic elements. “It’s an abstraction of what the landscape is—sheep, trees, so on, that you recognize as landscape, but it’s really just forms,” he observes. 

“It’s the relationship with colour that really makes [her work] pop,” he continues. “There is a certain illumination that comes through that you notice in particular in her floral compositions; they are too vibrant to be called ‘still life,’” he argues. “They are very strong; they jump off the page.”

About 16 of Michie’s works, Taylor mentions, will be shown along with oil on canvas paintings by Peter Dowgailenko. “Lindy’s are abstract and loose, [while] Peter’s are exquisitely detailed; a romantic view of the landscape.” Such contrasts will highlight each artist’s particular and divergent approach most powerfully.

Taylor notes how Dowgailenko can work with a painting over years, never declaring a finish to it. “The wonderful thing about oil is you can just keep adding to it. But with Lindy, she says she absolutely knows when she is finished, and that’s it,” he relates. 

Explains Michie, “I get a feeling which I can only explain as complete satisfaction. I leave it alone, walk away, and do this over time. If I reenter the room and do not feel the need to change anything, then it is done.” It can take months or, “if I’m very lucky,” mere hours for Michie to find a work finished. The moment that perfectly balances simplicity of form with intensity of colour arises as part of her highly intuitive process of addition and subtraction.

 

See Lindy Michie’s work with Peter Dowgailenko’s at Eclectic Gallery, 2170 Oak Bay Avenue, March 10-April 5. Opening reception March 12, 6-8pm. Online at www.eclecticgallery.ca and www.lindymichie.com.

Aaren Madden hopes to take her family to the castles, rolling hills (not to mention the Cerne Abbas Giant hill figure) Lindy Michie told her about, and expects a similar sense of awe as what Michie experienced in the mountains.